Urban Awakenings: Disturbance and Enchantment in the Industrial City

Based on various walks around their home city of Melbourne, the authors seek to find new ways of seeing and understanding urban life in the 21st century.

This book presents a series of urban investigations undertaken in the metropolis of Melbourne. It is based on the idea that ‘enchantment’ as an affective state is important to ethical and political engagement. Authors Samuel Alexander and Brendan Gleeson argue that a sense of enchantment can give people the impulse to care and engage in an increasingly troubled world, whereas disenchantment can lead to resignation. Applying and extending this theory to the urban landscape, the authors walk their home city with eyes open to the possibility of seeing and experiencing the industrial city in different ways. This unique methodology, described as ‘urban tramping’, positions the authors as freethinking freewalkers of the city, encumbered only with the duty to look through the delusions of industrial capitalism towards its troubled, contradictory soul. These urban investigations were disrupted midway by COVID-19, a plague that ended up confirming the book’s central thesis of a fractured modernity vulnerable to various internal contradictions.



Dr Samuel Alexander is a Research Fellow with the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute. He is co-author of Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary (2019).
Professor Brendan Gleeson is Director of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute. He is co-author of Degrowth in the Suburbs: A Radical Urban Imaginary (2019).


Podcast: Lost and Found - The Enchanted City, with Jonathan Green, ABC Radio National

Tramping the city to find enchantment in a disenchanting world, The Conversation.

Read the introduction of the book titled A Disturbed Book: Bubbles Under the Throne, published by the The Fifth Estate.

Read Chapter 2, Unsettling the Story of Disenchantment, published by Resilience.org.


“Following their recent book Degrowth in the Suburbs, Samuel Alexander and Brendan Gleeson turn to the pulsating heart of ‘Marvellous Melbourne’, their home city. Deploying age-old methods of tramping transects and direct observation, they assess this city’s contradictory enchantments and disturbances, its longer-term liveability and viability. Tramping this exemplar of the industrial city, they uncover a consumptive, unsustainable, late carbon civilization dependent on its immediate hinterland, trapped in growth fetishism and inhabited by a troubled ‘homo urbanis’—but still with its considerable charms. Navigating the COVID-19 regulatory lockdown results in an unusual natural experiment as the fault lines of the industrial city are exposed as vulnerable to depopulation, degrowth, deconsumption, and demise. The engaging narrative clips along at rhythmic tramping pace, replete with evocative metaphors, philosophical reflections on the contradictions of late modernity, deep ecological concerns and some welcome humour. This highly readable and lavishly illustrated book ends with a rousing call to action. A must read for anyone concerned about the future of cities, of humankind, and the natural world under siege from the still dominant neoliberal order.” (Jon Altman AM, Emeritus Professor, The Australian National University, Canberra)